Are We Too ‘Normal’?

Nice. But Not Colorful

<b>NEVER INDICTED:</b> While other cities can boast of electing criminals to public office, we have to make do with nice civic leaders, like Mayor Helene Schneider.
Paul Wellman (file)

NICE, BUT NOT COLORFUL: Santa Barbara is a lot of things, but it ain’t zany. We used to have real characters I could write about, like the Minister of Marijuana, and the Professor, who walked around toting a bag of books and ranting.

We’re Nice, but we’re not Colorful. We don’t have anyone like Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s under court order to stop discriminating against Latinos with his Nazi-like sweeps. Joe’s been under fire for years but keeps getting reelected. They love the guy. Arizona is colorful in a Wild West, shoot-first, racist kind of way.

Barney Brantingham

All Arizona needs to make headlines is one someone like Joe. Everyone else ​— ​except maybe one of their crazy governors, who have a habit of being indicted, or a legislature trying to take over the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ​— ​can be normal and the state can still bask in the 115-degree heat of old-fashioned white-man Americanism.

All we have in California to match that is Old Baldy, formerly dubbed Governor Moonbeam, now doing his best to dig the state out of financial crisis and doing a very boring job of it. He does follow former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, son of a Nazi storm trooper, who was clueless about running a state but very apt at smoking cigars and impregnating both his housekeeper and wife at about the same time.

But Santa Barbara’s City Council is a group of very Nice, well-meaning people who do not happen to be corrupt, at least as far as I know. Other cities, like Chicago, of course, can boast criminals as civic leaders. Not us. Mayor Helene Schneider has never been indicted. In fact, to my knowledge, no past mayor has ever been indicted or accused of stealing from the Orphans Fund, laundering drug money, or human trafficking.

We are boring, and, by golly, we like it that way. None of your avant-garde environmentalism for us. No one is going to write an exposé about Santa Barbara narcotrafficantes or satanic cults, or even a comic novel. Dave Barry would starve.

Living in the lunatic asylum called Miami, Barry has no shortage of material. He has just published a book called, appropriately, Insane City. Read it, and Carl Hiaasen’s novels, and you have to believe that Florida is wall-to-wall with rednecks, far-right politicians, greedheads, angry Cuban exiles, and Republicans. All these writers have to do is read the headlines and look out the window.

We in Santa Barbara don’t have that luxury. You have to look pretty hard to find eccentrics lurking around City Hall. Climate-change deniers, yes.

So we have to go looking for out-of-town stuff like Insane City, which involves strippers, medical marijuana, a Burmese python named Blossom, a shrewish bride, an orangutan that steals the wedding ring, and other silliness. Hiaasen specializes in dark social satire, Florida corruption, and all-around weirdness.

I am not making this up: Dave Barry will be coming to the Granada on January 22, 2014, brought by UCSB’s Arts & Lectures. He’ll be flogging the new book but for sure will not be picking up any local color. Though years ago, someone asked Barry why then-president Reagan wore brown suits. “Someone told him to,” Barry cracked.

Arts & Lectures chose the beautifully rebuilt El Encanto Hotel to announce its new lineup the other day. Along with Barry, there’ll be cellist Yo-Yo Ma, returning to the Granada on March 13, 2014. Alan Alda will be at the Granada with his book Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself on October 1. In 2014, the Venice Baroque Orchestra is due February 6, the Vienna Philharmonic on March 5, and Garrison Keillor on April 2.

Lots of writers coming, I’m glad to say. Tony Kushner, who wrote the script for the film Lincoln, will speak at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on October 4. Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, on which Lincoln was partly based, will be at Campbell Hall on November 4. (Would have been fun to have had them on stage together, eh?)

Fiddler: Who would write stories about a milkman? Sholem Aleichem, known as “the Jewish Mark Twain,” did. He died at 57 in 1916, decades before his stories about Tevye, the milkman in an Eastern European village, became the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof. I was moved while watching Tevye, well-played by Erik Stein, trying to keep his balance, like that fiddler on the roof, and to hold on, above all, to the sacred “traditions.” The PCPA production runs at the Solvang Festival Theater through July 6.


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